As New York City students face the reality of life without a free MetroCard, most of the outrage has been directed at the MTA. How could the MTA desert the city’s children? How could they play politics with the city’s future? Doesn’t the authority know truancy rates will increase?
Over the past week, I’ve examined both the politics and the mathematics behind Student MetroCard cuts, and the picture is not a rosy one. The state, once a guarantor of the Student MetroCard program, now pays just $6 million in transportation subsidies for its students while the city hasn’t increased its funding past the $45 million mark in a decade and a half. The MTA, meanwhile, is saddled with $160 million in costs for the program.
For families, the pain will be acute. Based on my calculations, it will cost at least $687.60 for a family to send one child back and forth to school every year. Add some extracurricular stops, and the costs will rise to approximately $800 a year. As Sharon Otterman explored today in The Times, many families will struggle to find that money, and the city’s school choice program would suffer. “If I had to pay for the MetroCard, my mother would have preferred a school closer to me,” Alejandro Velazquez, a 15-year-old from the Bronx who travels 40 minutes to school each way, said. “There’s one right down the block from our house.”
I am guardedly optimistic though about the MTA’s position here. What is notable about Otterman’s article is her utter lack of sources who blame the MTA for pushing through these cuts. People are out there who are willing to point fingers, but journalists who are doing their jobs will not give them a platform. The state and city should bear the costs of transporting students, and journalists should know that.
In the end, it’s a tough situation for everyone. Urban areas are not legally required in New York State to provide free transportation to students, and the MTA in particular is under no mandate to give away transit to students while the millions of New Yorkers who rely on the transit network for to power the area’s economy wait longer for more crowded trains. While state officials may want the MTA to “find money” through other cuts that sustain student transit, the reality is that student transit is not the business of the MTA, and student transit is now acutely holding down the MTA from fulfilling its role.
“No other transit agency in the country subsidizes free or discounted student travel,” agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz, said. “Transporting students usually falls on the government body responsible for educating them.” Amen.