When an eleventh-hour Albany bailout package earlier this year ensured that the MTA would not need to institute its original Doomsday budget proposal, I ran something of a postmortem on the transit advocates’ roles in the debate. In a rather scathing piece that generated strong feelings on both sides of the divide, I questioned the Straphangers’ approach toward their advocacy campaign and wondered if they were truly taking advantage of their position as the city’s leading — and sometimes only — transit advocacy group.
Since then, the Campaign has seemingly taken a more vocal role in trying to educate the public. Gene Russianoff has been quick to point out that the payroll tax short fall is entirely Albany’s fault, and he has, for better or worse, proposed alternate ways the MTA could close its budget gap without cutting too many services.
But an e-mail I received yesterday made me raise an eyebrow or two. First, it starts out saying, “For the MTA, reviving these cuts would shred its credibility.” Of course, it’s not for another three paragraphs that the Straphangers accuse Albany of not doing its job. Perhaps the MTA does lose its credibility, but who should lose more credibility — the agency tasked with balancing its budget or the state legislature whose empty promises have left the authority nearly broke? I still believe the better strategy for a transit advocacy group is to educate and not to finger-point at the agency that has few options available to it.
It gets better though when the Straphangers bring math into the equation:
Riders have every right to be mad as hell – and parents furious. Ending full-fare and half-fare discounts for 550,000 students in New York would be a huge financial burden on families. For example, it would cost a parent at least $1,069 annually to pay to get their full-fare child to school (280 school days x $1.91 x 2. A $1.91 represents 15% off $2.25, the current base fare.) $1069 equal to the costs of a 30-day pass for an entire year!
Now, first, the Campaign’s math is simply wrong. I use a 30-day card every month, and the totally yearly cost to me is $1068. I might be picking a bone over one dollar, but it’s just sloppy multiplication. That’s not the real problem though; the real problem is one of simple common sense. If, as the Straphangers contend, it will actually cost less to buy 30-day passes for a year than it will to pay the full fare everyday for 280 school days, wouldn’t parents just, you know, buy 30-day passes for their school-bound children? So much would it actually cost to send two children to school for 280 days? Let’s find out.
One 2010-2011 school year calendar I’ve seen has school beginning on Monday, Sept. 13 after the Jewish holidays. Students are then in school through Dec. 17, return on Jan. 3, have a week off in both February and April and see the year wrap up around June 17. The fall semester, then, would cover three unlimited ride MetroCards plus five days of paying the full fare. The spring semester would require five unlimited ride MetroCards and another two-week MetroCard plus five days of the full fare. How’s the math look?
But there’s a further problem: There aren’t 280 school days in the calendar year. There are approximately 180 school days in New York City. The math for a full-fare ride for the actual school year looks like this:
No matter how you slice or dice, for many families, that figure will still look expensive. Some who use transit on the weekends will opt for the $800 approach; others may stick with the $687 figure. No matter the cost, it will be a burden to spend those additional hundreds of dollars on student transportation costs, and after enjoying free rides for years, parents will experience an element of sticker shock here.
But my main point is that the Straphangers should be presenting an honest expense figure here. It will cost between $687 and $800 to send one student to school for the entire school year, excluding summers. The public deserves to know that, and the Straphangers, a ridership advocacy group, should not be releasing widely inflated figure as they did yesterday.