On Monday, city and elected officials joined advocates to celebrate the launch of open enrollment on the city’s Fair Fares program.
Since the city piloted the initiative in early 2019, more than 107,000 eligible residents have already enrolled in the program, including select CUNY students, NYCHA residents and New Yorkers receiving cash assistance and food stamps.
Speaker Corey Johnson, who championed the Fair Fares program and called it “one of my biggest accomplishments as speaker,” said it could potentially help up to 800,000 New Yorkers.
“New York really happens on the subway or the bus,” he said on Monday in front of the Barclays Center. “If you can’t get on the subway or the bus it’s hard to be a full New Yorker, which is why it’s so important that we get this program done right.”
People living at or below the federal poverty line have to make “tough choices” about how to spend their money, he said, such as paying bills, going to doctor’s visits or buying food.
“We’re trying to ease that burden a little bit by making MetroCards available to all of them,” Johnson said. “We know that this program is changing lives and will continue to change lives.”
Half of the $212 million program was funded in 2018, and the other half was funded in this past budget. Not all of the money has been spent because officials needed time to get the program up and running, Johnson said.
The City Council speaker added that they will see how many people have signed up for Fair Fares to determine how much money to ask for in the upcoming budget negotiations in June.
Last month, the de Blasio administration launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to spread the word about open enrollment for Fair Fares. Part of the campaign includes targeted ads in neighborhoods where many eligible New Yorkers live and work.
The ads, which are in 11 different languages, are running on subways and buses, in bus shelters and local businesses, online and in news publications.
Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Steven Banks said eligible New Yorkers can sign up and upload the necessary documents online.
“It is a great moment to address a real need that New Yorkers have,” Banks said.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, who brought her son Prince to the celebration, said many parents have to pay multiple fares to take their kids to daycare, then go to work, take their kids to after school and then go home.
“All of this adds up in the city,” she said.
Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society of New York, one of the organizations that proposed half-priced MetroCards, said their research found that too many New Yorkers couldn’t afford the fare.
“In New York City, you can’t get ahead if you can’t get on the subway or bus,” she said. “That’s your ticket to work, college classes, medical care or home to your kids on time.”
Many of the 107,000 New Yorkers already enrolled in Fair Fares have told her the program is a “lifesaver,” Rankin said. She said she hopes hundreds of thousands of people can “get on board and get ahead.”
Pedro Valdez Jr., a member of the Riders Alliance, was among the 107,000 people who enrolled last year. A NYCHA resident, Valdez said he and his mother already feel the impact.
“We saved hundreds of dollars last year,” he said. “We used the money on medicine, groceries, the whole nine yards.”
Rhonda Jackson, another Riders Alliance member, just signed up for Fair Fares on her phone. She said as a mother, grandmother and an advocate for the homeless, she often felt frustration at not being able to get around.
“Sometimes I had to make a choice between a MetroCard or seeing my grandchildren, which wasn’t fair,” she said. “Having Fair Fares means I have the freedom to travel affordably though my wonderful city.”
Danna Dennis, a community organizer with the Riders Alliance, said they’ve already been informing riders on subway platforms and handing out flyers.
“It is my hope that every eligible New Yorker who is in need, every person who is struggling, every family who’s had to share one MetroCard, apply today,” she said.
To register for Fair Fares, visit nyc.gov/fairfares.