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City close to providing half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers

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The Fair Fares program will operate as a pilot for six months, according to sources

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Transit activists and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson scored a political victory yesterday after Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to put money for half-price MetroCards in the upcoming city budget proposal, according to multiple reports.

The reported agreement comes after a two-year fight for the Fair Fares program, which more than half of the City Council signed on to support this year after it was left out of the mayor’s initial budget proposal.

While certain details for the so-called handshake deal need to be ironed out, both Politico and the New York Times report that the initial funding for the program will be $106 million. That figure is lower than the $212 million Johnson wanted for the subsidized MetroCards, but the deal is still a turnaround from De Blasio’s initial position that the subsidy should be paid for by a millionaire’s tax (which the state Senate hasn’t indicated it’s willing to pass).

The cards will be available to adult New Yorkers living under the federal poverty line, which means an individual making under $12,000/year, or a family of four making $24,399/year; that’s a total of 800,000 people. NY1’s Grace Rauh reported that the initial funding is being viewed as a pilot program and that the City Council will have six months to prove low-income New Yorkers are actually using the MetroCards.

“This will make an enormous difference for economically struggling New Yorkers and will be a major step towards making New York a fairer, more equitable city,” Rebecca Bailin, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, said in a statement.

Johnson appeared on NY1’s Inside City Hall last night, and said that negotiations between the City Council and the mayor were still ongoing, but that he felt like “we’re moving in a good direction” and that talks would continue through the weekend. Johnson also said that he’s comfortable with the subsidized MetroCards costing $1 billion over four years.

“The folks who really need this, New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line, they can’t be full citizens in our city if they can’t get on the subway,” Johnson said. “Most of the people begging for a swipe in the morning to get on the trains, people that are seeking work or wanting to bring their kids somewhere, this is a poverty reduction program. I look at it as us helping people be lifted up so they become full citizens.”

And while the deal isn’t set in stone, so far only three of the City Council’s 51 members are on record as being against the proposal.