The city says more than 320,000 New Yorkers have signed up for Fair Fares since it began in 2019. The program offers half-price MetroCards to those whose incomes are at or below 120% of the federal poverty line.

But a new report from the nonprofit Community Service Society (CSS) shows there are many more who could benefit from the program.

“Over half of the eligible population, as surveyed last summer, 56% were not engaged with the enrollment process,” Debipriya Chatterjee, the co-author of the report and senior economist at Community Service Society, said. “A lot of them had not applied, a lot of them did not know about the program at all and a lot did not know how to apply.”

What You Need To Know

  • A report from the Community Service Society shows even moderate-income New Yorkers are struggling to pay for their daily public transit commutes, but make too much to qualify for the city’s half-price fare program
  • The report recommends expanding the threshold to qualify for Fair Fares from the current rate of at or below 120% of the federal poverty line to 200%
  • The State Assembly and City Council Speaker want to expand the program

The report, “When You Can’t Afford the Fare: How Expanding Fair Fares Can Help Working New Yorkers as Transit Hardships Persist,” is part of CSS’ series, The Unheard Third. While the MTA does do outreach at transit hubs, Chatterjee said it isn’t enough.

“The moment you are interacting with a social service provider or with HRA, you should be automatically screened for whether you are eligible for Fair Fares at this point,” Chatterjee said.

A City Hall spokesperson said it continues to build on outreach to community groups and targeted social media campaigns. But the report said those who don’t qualify for most services, like a family of four making just over $36,000 up to about $62,000 a year, also have difficulty paying for their commutes.

“It happens that anyone with a regular job, even with a minimum wage job in New York who has the need to commute to work daily, is making too much to qualify for fair fares,” Chatterjee said.

There is momentum to expand Fair Fares, which the report said would cost the city an additional $55 million, that could be funded if the State Assembly’s budget proposal prevails. It calls for an expansion to include those making an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said she’ll push for an expansion.

“It requires deeper investments, which is why we will continue to push for eligibility at 200% of the federal poverty level,” Adams said in her State of the City address Wednesday. “So that more people can access our public transit system to unlock opportunity.”

The report also recommends expanding the MTA’s free bus program. Both houses of the legislature support an expansion from five to 15 routes. As for the Fair Fares expansion, City Hall said it will continue to work to boost enrollment.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story included a projected cost of expanding Fair Fares that changed in a later version of the report.