NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City has officially rolled out its much-anticipated Fair Fares program, designed to lend low-income New Yorkers a helping hand with mass transit.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson held a joint appearance to announce the details of the half-priced MetroCard program, which began Friday for those receiving cash assistance or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from the New York City Department of Social Services.
They said the city is committed to expanding the program to as many New Yorkers as possible in future phases and is already developing the infrastructure to make that possible, with those receiving federal SNAP benefits expected to be eligible beginning in April.
The Fair Fares NYC MetroCard will allow participants to purchase unlimited weekly and monthly passes at a 50 percent discount at MTA vending machines. The cards can be used on any New York City subway or non-express bus, and the city is working with the MTA to phase in a pay-per-ride option that it expects to launch in April.
"New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between a ride on the subway or bus and their next meal," de Blasio said. "Our partnership with the council for fair fares will make our city stronger and fairer for low-income New Yorkers whose lives depend on mass transportation."
Last spring, the mayor and City Council announced a plan to fund $106 million for the Fair Fares program in the first year.
On Friday morning, the Department of Social Services started contacting 30,000 eligible working New Yorkers who are receiving benefits.
The notifications and subsequent telephone calls will inform this group of their eligibility and invite them to visit the nearest Fair Fares NYC location to receive their half-priced MetroCard.
Eligible recipients can also call 311 to assist in receiving their card.
In April, an additional estimated 130,000 working New Yorkers who are receiving federal SNAP benefits will receive notifications about how to access their cards.
The announcement did not come without criticism, however, as Fair Fairs was expected to launch January 1 and instead came a few days late. Critics also noted that it currently only applies to weekly and monthly MetroCards.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer called it a failure of government.
"This was supposed to be the game-changer in the anti-poverty movement, instead it's starting look like a mockery," Stringer said.
Commuters have seen an approximate 4 percent fare increase every other year since 2009, and now, officials say one out of four New Yorkers cannot afford to ride the trains or buses to get to places like work, a job interview, or even a doctor's appointment.