Mayor Bill de Blasio is rolling out New York City's new program to offer half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers, but it is only going to help a fraction of the city's eligible residents at first.

De Blasio shook on the city's budget deal last year, agreeing to include money for half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But even then, there were questions about who would be eligible and how the program would work.

"That's what we are going to work on now for the next six months, preparing to make this launch January 1," the mayor said June 11, when announcing the budget deal.

Six months later, and four days past the expected launch date, many of the same questions about the "Fair Fares" program remain — and even more so now that the mayor has said only a small fraction of the 800,000 low-income New Yorkers who may be eligible for the discounted cards will actually get them anytime soon.

"The subway system began in 1904," the mayor said at a news conference introducing the program Friday. "There has never been a time that low-income New Yorkers got discount MetroCards like this."


The first in line to get the half-priced MetroCards are the 30,000 New Yorkers who receive cash assistance from the city. In April, the program will grow to include the 130,000 New Yorkers who receive food stamps.

"The turnstile can be the door to unlimited opportunity if you can get on, and we are just giving you the keys to open that door," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at the news conference.

The mayor could not say when other low-income residents may get the cards, or who would be eligible.

"I understand that reporters or anybody else might say, 'Why can't things be more instantaneous?' But you would also say, if something went wrong, 'Why did something go wrong?'" de Blasio said. "We're trying to use the first 30,000 to make sure the whole system will work."


Advocates who appeared at the mayor's news conference Friday made it clear they want him to act quickly.

"We need a timeline that is quick, that is aggressive about implementing 'Fair Fares,'" said John Raskin of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance.

"Now it is up to the mayor to make good on his side of the bargain," said David Jones, an MTA Board member and a member of Community Service Society.

In defending the rollout of "Fair Fares," de Blasio suggested that creating the program was actually harder to pull off than the launch of universal pre-kindergarten.