NYC commits $75M to Fair Fares program, makes it a permanent part of budget

Posted On Tue, February 15, 2022 By

Posted On Tue, February 15, 2022 By In Policy, Transportation

Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash

Funding for New York City’s Fair Fares program, which offers a 50 percent discount on subway and bus trips for low-income New Yorkers, has been secured annually for the first time ever. Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams on Monday announced an agreement to baseline $75 million in funding for the program for the upcoming fiscal year 2023 budget. Fair Fares was originally funded at $106 million in 2020, but pandemic-related budget cuts reduced funding for the program to just over $40 million.

“The path to an equitable recovery runs through our public transit system,” Adams said. “Since its inception, Fair Fares has proven to be a transformative program for so many New Yorkers struggling to get by, and we are proud to announce this investment in its future to help even more people going forward.”

The city-funded Fair Fares program launched in 2019 and provides half-price subway, bus, and Access-A-Ride fares to New Yorkers with incomes at or below the federal poverty level, which is $13,590 annually for a single person and $46,630 for a family of eight. The discount applies to pay-per-ride as well as weekly and monthly unlimited ride options.

According to the city, over 264,600 New Yorkers have enrolled in the program. As amNewYork Metro reported, that represents just a third of the over 703,000 city residents that qualify for the program. A survey conducted by the Community Service Society found nearly half of Fair Fare eligible respondents had not applied to the program and 14 percent said they did not know how to apply. One of the recommendations from the group is to significantly improve outreach to eligible New Yorkers, particularly NYCHA residents and CUNY students.

Adams’ preliminary budget, set to be published on Wednesday, adds $15.5 million to the program in the current year, bringing the total to $68.5 million. The budget increases this investment to $75 million for next year and in the following fiscal years. In previous years, the program was funded through budget negotiations with the City Council.

Fair Fares is now a permanent part of the budget for the first time, according to Speaker Adams.

“The Council remains committed to returning the program to its original funding level, and if uptake of the program reaches the budgeted amount before the end of the fiscal year, additional funds should be made available to meet the transportation needs of New Yorkers,” Speaker Adams said.

“In order for this program to be successful, a stronger commitment and focus on outreach than the one taken by the previous administration is needed, and the Council is a willing partner to help advance those efforts.”

The funding agreement comes as more riders are returning to the subway amid the ongoing pandemic. On Saturday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced ridership surpassed three million riders for three consecutive days last week, the first time since the Omicron variant hit New York City. According to the governor, weekly subway ridership has now reached 55 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

To encourage straphangers to return to public transit, the MTA recently announced a new fare-capping pilot program for OMNY users. Starting February 28, subway or bus riders who use the contactless payment system 12 times within a seven-day period will be automatically upgraded to an unlimited pass for the rest of that week.

“Regional Plan Association applauds Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams for prioritizing Fair Fares in the budget,” Tom Wright, president and CEO, Regional Plan Association, said. “Having guaranteed annual funding is vital to making this a consistent, reliable program for years to come. Fair Fares makes bus and subway rides more affordable for those who need it and has the added benefit of helping bring riders back to the system.”

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