To save money, MTA may axe Student MetroCards

By · Published in 2009

studentmetrocards Faced with a budget gap of a few hundred million dollars, the MTA may be targeting a politically sensitive giveaway that is bound to get New Yorkers riled up over the looming service cuts. According to a report in the Daily News, the authority is considering eliminating student MetroCards as part of a multi-faceted approach to closing its new-found budget gap.

Amongst the TWU’s arbitration award, the payroll tax short fall and the state appropriations cut, the MTA may face a budget gap as large as $500 million this year, and the Student MetroCards have long been a sore subject for the agency. According to Pete Donohue, the authority doles out approximately 550,000 Student MetroCards each year that allow the city’s pupils to ride the rails for free. Once jointly fully funded by the city and state, both political bodies have cut back their student-based contributions to the MTA, and the agency runs annual deficits on this program.

In fact, two years ago, City Comptroller William Thompson reported on the student MetroCard funding programs. Because the city and state contribute just $90 million to a program that costs $161.5 million to administer, the agency effectively loses $71.5 million per year on Student MetroCards. To make matters worse, this has been the status quo for these student passes since the mid-1990s. Why should an authority tasked with balancing its budget dole out free rides when the city and state have long ago reneged on their pledges to fully fund student transit subsidies?

The Student MetroCard program is based solely on how far away a student lives from his or her school and not on need, and parents are up in arms over the rumored cuts to it. The comments three Daily News reporters dug up are as expected. Parents say they won’t be able to afford to send their children to school via public transit, and kids say some of their classmates simply won’t go to school because they would have way to get there. Education experts too worry about the loss of free transit.

“If you’re going to eliminate neighborhood high schools as the mayor has in most of the city, it’s absolutely critical to have free transportation for kids, especially because children are required by law to go to school,” Clara Hemphill, a New School education expert, said. “Some kids are traveling up to 90 minutes by public transportation. There’s absolutely no way to get there without the subway and bus.”

In a rather absurd column, Michael Daly goes after the MTA for this plan as well. He claims that smart kids may “risk arrest” by jumping turnstiles to get to school and that the city will lose federal education funding because the authority’s cuts to the MetroCard program will cause truancy rates to rise. With this charge, we might be nearing the point where someone has managed to blame the MTA for just about any potential problem in the city.

The reality, though, is far from simple. It’s true that, for an eight-month school year, 30-day unlimited ride MetroCards would cost families $712 per child, but the MTA could opt to go for a reduced rate for students. Even a $1 or 50-cent student ride would enable the MTA to capture additional revenue while eliminating a $70-million loss from the agency’s books.

Furthermore, the agency should not be expected to simply foot the bill when the city and state refuse to pony up for a program they originally promised to fund. The MTA provides student MetroCards at the request of New York’s politicians. It is under no legal obligation to do so, and it is well within its right to threaten to eliminate this program as a way to draw more attention to its fiscal plight and more funds for its severely strained coffers.

Cutting Student MetroCards and those three free rides a day will hurt. Families will be forced to pay more money to send their children to school, and others won’t be able to attend schools far from home. But the MTA has its back against the wall, and it is fighting back with all of its might. End the great student MetroCard swindle and that huge budget gap will look a little bit smaller.

Categories : MetroCard, Service Cuts

55 Responses to “To save money, MTA may axe Student MetroCards”

  1. rhywun says:

    Finally, a cut that will get people riled up.

    • EWSIS5191 says:

      I’ve been reading all of these statements and im getting really mad because people keep blaming the MTA but it’s really the government’s fault though they’re the ones that are cutting the MTA off

  2. John says:

    It’s absurd for the MTA to be footing the bill for Student Metrocards. I think that students should have a free way of getting to school, but it’s on the shoulders of the school district to provide that. If they can’t/won’t offer school buses (I assume they don’t?) they should be paying for these Metrocards.

    I have another question though. If these are meant to just get them to school and back, is there any limit on them? Like can they only be used twice per day? Or are they true unlimited cards they can use as much as they want?

    Implemented reduced student fares would be good but tough. They’d have to do it right or everyone would just buy Student metrocards.

    • Right now, the limit is three free swipes (+ bus transfers a la regular Metrocards) per day. These are supposed to be used getting to and from school-related activities from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm.

      • John says:

        Thanks. I saw the reference to three swipes in your article, but wasn’t sure if that was an actual limit or just a reference to how many an average student might use.

        • ECO crisis says:

          If the mta attempts this act, this can accualy effect the economy. Think about it, if children grow up, and they get a poorly education or non at all thank to the mta, there will not be enough workers to run the giant machine in which we call new york. This is just a prediction but alot of other things will be currupted by taking away the student metro card. Alot of drop outs will occur from 500,000 students. Also, a 30 day unlimited ride card for 8-9 months would cost about 750 dollars TIMES the amount of children per family. My friends family has 6 children. thats 6 times 750. Thats 4500 dollars right there plus bills and taxes. Now tell me, is mta thinking about everyone else or only itself? In my oppinion, it seems that New york is craving for money every second. Why give money now if history repeats itself?

          • Melissa says:

            I am a student in highschool, and i honestly think that this is the worst thing the MTA can do. I live 1Hr and 30 min away from my school, and i take two busses and on train just to get there every morning. I make the sacrafice to wake up at 4:30 am, leave my house at 5:30 am just to get to school by 7 am. For me getting to school would be about 9 $$ a day. just for one day! Most of the people that i go to school with have already said that they simply wont go to school if they cant get there. They are influencing kids to drop out. This can NOT be allowed. What are they thinking???

            • No, Melissa, it wouldn’t cost you $9 a day. That’s just bad math. If you’re taking two buses and a train each way, you can buy an unlimited ride MetroCard for $89 a month. It will cost you around $4 a day if all you do is go to school for around 20 days a month and never ever use the subway or bus outside of school.

              Anyway, educate yourself on the issue, and blame Albany and City Hall.

          • Derek says:

            Well, your friend’s family should have considered having less children then. It is always the poorest having the most kids. The rest of us always have to take up the slack for people who show zero appreciation for what they are getting for free. One only has to get on the bus and trains around three in the afternoon to see how vile and disgusting most of these kids act. They take it for granted that they get public transportation for free ad show zero respect to the system. I come from a third world country. Kids there have to pay their own way to school, and are more than happy to get the education.

    • Nathanael says:

      According to New York State Law, most school districts are *required* to provide transportation for students who live further than some distance from their schools.

      Is there some special exemption for New York City? If not, the City will simply have to pony up the money, it’s legally required to, and it’s been cheating the MTA.

      What’s going on here? Can someone check the law?

  3. Scott E says:

    This should have happened long ago. It’s not the MTA’s responsibility (rather, it shouldn’t be) to provide and pay for transportation for students. When the city/school district stopped contributing, the MTA should not have picked up the slack – even if they had the cash at the time to do so (to be honest, I don’t remember the actual sequence of events, nor public reaction, at the time). When the MTA struggles to keep itself afloat, they shouldn’t be generously covering the expenses of a different agency. Let the responsible agency fund this one.

    • Jay H says:

      I’m 14 and a high school freshmen. I go to a far high school and I want you to rewrite your argument, but in my shoes.

      • I’m 26 and was a high school student in New York City once. I’m still waiting for you or one of your peers to tell me why the MTA and not the city or state should fund your travel expenses to and from school.

        • jash says:

          haha the mta should be paying for student’s metrocards, unless they would like another surplus of homeless people living in their subway stations. just a thought.

  4. JK says:

    The Mayor has to step up here. He has said there is money in the budget for 4% salary increases for the teachers. Can the raises and use the funds to get the kids to school. The teachers vote and the kids do not so we will see what happens.

    • John says:

      But their parents do!

    • drosejr says:

      No way the mayor uses teacher raises to fund Metrocards for students, since that funding has historically been matched by the state 1-for-1. Since the state is completely abandoning its MTA responsibilities post this spring’s bailout, I don’t think there is any chance of the state matching increased funding from the city.

  5. KPL says:

    Through a Facebook group, I found this petition: http://action.workingfamiliesp.....on_KEY=487

    It says “The MTA should use its available funds, not cut services millions of New Yorkers depend on.”

    To which I say: What “available” funds? Too bad all the vitriol is going to be directed at the MTA and not at the City or Albany.

  6. Ellie says:

    Do property taxes in NYC have any funding go toward schools? Where I grew up, you paid part of your taxes for schools, which included bus service to/from school.

  7. rhywun says:

    Jeez, I really don’t care which agency or level of government funds it–it all comes out of my paycheck in the end. But someone just pay for it already. It’s crazy to make kids pay for their own trip to school–that’s unheard of, at least in the two countries I’ve lived in (the US and Germany).

    • Alon Levy says:

      In Israel, people ride city buses to school and pay full fare – they only get school buses if for some reason they go to school far away from where they live. In Singapore, people ride buses or the subway, and get small student discounts. The governments there don’t really subsidize student transportation any more than they’d subsidize clothes.

  8. renetta says:

    it’s bad enough that we already have to pay $2.25 for riding the bus. to reduce our rides on the metro card is bad.there’s a lot of students that are poor and that live in a shelter, they are really trying to get there education and become successful and help this world be a better place.. us youth are the future and if nobody wants to make a change we will!!!!.. we need the community to do something and stop being scared

  9. Abraham Moussako says:

    “It’s crazy to make kids pay for their own trip to school”
    full price, maybe, but public transportation systems in many cities make at least teens/high schools pay. for example, I know London, Washington and San Francisco (BART) make kids pay. The best solution would be to provide a true unlimited metro card, good for the whole school year, at $50-$60, with the 3 free rides system remaining for free/reduced lunch kids. while that may sound like a lot, its far less per-month than what some Queens (and wealthy Manhattan)area kids pay for school buses to my school.


    This is unbeliveable what they ARE trying to do. i mean i dont understand what they always want to cut the most important out of all, there is other things they could do to save money and the other things i dont understand is millions of people use the mta everyday instead of running out they should have extra. THEY SHOULD EVEN THINK ABOUT THINK THID IDEA!

    • That’s just not how it works. The number of riders doesn’t matter if the MTA artificially deflates fares to keep politicians happy. For now on the cost analysis of user fees and service cuts, see this post.

      • Patt says:

        Benjamin you work for MTA don’t you ?.

        If they want to take away school cards at least give some good discounts for students on the unlimited cards that would be fair at least.

        • No. I don’t work for the MTA. I work for myself, and I believe that sensible transit policy doesn’t involve covering for the city and state when they renege on their funding promises.

  11. Jeke says:

    Personally, I used to be a student and used the student metro cards. It was beneficial for my family because my parents had four kids. Imagine having to pay what the fares are now daily for four students. Its incredible and ridiculous! The metrocards do have time limits and you are only able to use 3 rides per day. Maybe they can limit it to 2 rides a day one to get to school and one to return home. I am sure that this situation has NYer’s riled up and I’m sure the MTA will come up with a better action plan then cutting this wonderful program for people who are unable to afford transportation for their children.

  12. Selena says:

    This is by far the DUMBEST and most SELFISH thing the MTA has done. It’s not right for students to have to pay to get an education. I really hope, to our dear Lord that people rebel or something. But thats not likely because people now are to afraid to start a strike or something. We NEED to STRIKE! We should gather as many students and parents as possible and STRIKE!

    • Tell me, Selena, why should the MTA pay for student transportation costs when the state just cut its subsidy by nearly $40 million? Why should the MTA be the only transit authority in the nation that doesn’t receive a 100 percent subsidy to transport students to school? Why should the city and state be allowed to foist their own problems onto a transit agency?

      Calling this move dumb and selfish simply reveals that you have no idea what’s going on here.

      • Daryle says:

        Thi is terrible I go to lower east side manhattan for school and i lie high up in the Bronx. I can not pay for this I already pay for privae school with a lot of finacial aid if te MTA realy cared about its customers it would stp this cut

      • Nathanael says:

        All the other school districts in the state pay for transportation. Why isn’t New York City paying for this? What the hell is wrong with Bloomberg?

      • Diana says:

        I completely agree with you. Many sound angry that they did not get free transportation or books in their days so they are directing their anger towards these children. They want high school students to live what they did. It is extremely dumb and selfish, like you said. They only think about how they are going to benefit. There are other ways to get money. Take a look around…everyone is shopping or spending their money {talk about recession}. How broke can they possibly be?

    • Lisa says:

      The free ride is up. These kids get free books. In my country, there is not such thing. We have to buy all our books and pay to get to school. You want people to rebel? What do you want….. a riot? NY has one of the cheapest transportation systems. Try traveling around other cities and see how much you have to pay and then complain about the $2.25 per ride fare. I see kids out on the street with cellphones that even I cannot afford. When push comes to shove, the parents will just have to find a way. And quit complaining about those families that have more than one kid. No one told them to have more children than they could afford. That is their problem. Deal with it.

      • Diana says:

        “No one told them to have more children than they could afford. That is their problem. Deal with it.”

        Your statement sure shows understanding.

  13. Jarel says:

    When I grow up, I’m moving to another state. Some place where the tax is much much lower and students can to to school without having to pay for transportation.

    • Nathanael says:

      Just move upstate if you want students to go to school without paying for transportation.

      There’s something very weird going on here, I’m quite sure NYS law requires school districts (which is the City in NYC) to provide transportation.

  14. Brandon Bernard says:

    This is such an outrageous plan to cut student fares. Not all families are fortunate enough to pay for train or bus fares everyday. Not only would students have to transfer out of their current school and go into a closer one, wouldn’t more schools become zoning schools, which in turn lower the education quality?

    Look at the bigger picture, we have countries like China, India, Korea, etc that have such high education standards while the United States is lagging behind. We can’t afford to cut student fares!

    You can point the finger at the state, but if this doesn’t work as a negotiating tactic to make them pay for their share of funding, than what?

    • Nathanael says:

      I’m fairly sure the schools are the City’s responsibility, and unlike the MTA, the City has money. So why isn’t the City paying for this?

  15. Jack says:

    This doesn’t seem to be MTA’s fault at all. If the city really has cut down on the funding since the mid 1990’s then they have no obligation to give out free student metro’s. I always thought the school’s system were paying for it until now.

    In the end if it is really required by law that school’s provide transportation to students, then they will have to find a smart way to do so without “wasting” anything. For example, a commenter stated earlier they see students treating the transportation system like crap. If you are given something for free you will never appreciate it as much as you have if you earned it.

    If this really does happen and they shove responsibility to the schools a proper solution would be to make kids “earn” their right for free/reduced transportation with good grades and attendance. I know for sure that there are tons of kids who cut school and abuse the free metro card rides to go somewhere else just to chill or hang out.

    Driving is a privilege, free transportation should be too.

    The one’s who do get free/reduced transportation the schools will have to ask the city for extra budget(of course with a given plan like the one above) so it wouldn’t be asking too much unlike the mta blankly stating they would like money for the 550k student metro’s they dole out every year. MTA really has no control over how schools issue their metro cards so asking for 71.5 million is pretty much a long stretch while the school system can ask for an increased budget for free/reduced fares contingent on good student performance.

    If you ask for money from the state and they look at it that way it would surely have a higher chance of being approved.

    Of course this may all be easier said than done, but I guess everything starts with an idea.

  16. Matthew says:

    Here is a button size design to protest the elimination of discounted and free student fare:

    • That’s smart — urging kids who supposedly can’t afford to pay for a monthly MetroCard to jump the turnstile and risk a $100 fine. Brilliant!

      • tsccole says:

        Well that is exactly what’s going to happen, if they cut school metro cards. Either that or there is going to be a high rate of kids dropping out of school. I do agree that some parents knowing damn well they are not able to afford certain things shouldn’t have so many damn children. I have a one child and that is enough for me. I don’t agree with the MTA for cutting school metro cards, there has to be another way but who care right its not their children who are going to suffer.

      • tsccole says:

        correction- I have one child.

  17. jomal says:

    Actually the fine for hoppinq increased to 120-160. Plus a summons to court. But cuttinq school metros would mean many students wouldn’t be able to attend school unless their parents drive them to school or they qet a permit/license and drive themselves. Which would result in hiqher qas prices, more traffic, and hiqher accident rates. So I believe cuttinq or reducinq metro cards is obsered.

    • Considering the demographics of car ownership in the city as well as the costs of gas, insurance, maintenance and parking, anyone who can afford to let their kid drive to school can also afford to pay less than $700 a year to send their kid to school on the subway. Those who own cars in the city are not those who won’t be able to afford the costs of transit if the student MetroCard cuts go through.

  18. WHY says:


  19. Hasna ayadi says:

    Benjamin i am 14 (freshmen) and i work for my school newspaper. i am writing an artical about the student metrocard cut and i wanted to ask you what things can students do to still come to school with out the student metro cards. if the students jump turnstiles and are risking arrest, fines, and refusing to go to school because of the cut that is just plain old stupid. would it make sense for every student to go to school and by that they (MTA) will save money and in a year or to they (Students) will get the cards back?

  20. Hasna ayadi says:

    My school website is
    my artical about the student metrocard cuts will be up by probably at the end of this month.
    i need qoutes so if anybody doesn’t mind giving me their opinion that would be great
    i mostly need yours Benjamin
    thank you

  21. Sorry Cant tell says:

    Beieve me I dont have that much money to get to school im from poor family and Father makes on 1800 dollars per moth and we pay rent too so I think metro cards should not be over plz MTA dont eliminate metro cards


  1. […] options, students and disabled passengers will see a drastic change of transportation quality. As I noted this morning, the MTA seemed ready to axe student MetroCards, and that plan is now official. With Gov. David […]

  2. […] the MTA announced plans to cut the Student MetroCard program, I’ve written extensively about the various aspects to this threat. We’ve explored the […]

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