Since 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 politics of the cuts and the mathematics behind the impending death of free student rides. Last week, Assembly rep Richard Brodsky promised to fight for student funding, and today we learn just how much it will take to save the program.
According to an article in today’s Daily News, the MTA will need $214 million from the government to maintain free student MetroCards. This total covers the entire cost of the program in 2009 dollars to the MTA as shown in this graph and would represent a significant contribution to the MTA during an era in which the state and the city have both pulled back on subsidies to transit.
The News reports that the MTA will scrape the program if the city and state do not fund it in its entirety, and recent comments by MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder support that sentiment. “It’s my aspiration that children in this city should be able to ride free to go to school,” he said last week. “It’s up to the state and city to put together a funding package to allow that to happen.”
In Albany, Gov. David Paterson has said he will unveil a new budget with more money for student travel within the next two weeks. Can we really expect the cash-strapped state to find $208 million more than they pledged for 2010 for student travel? After all, just under two months ago, the state cut its student subsidies from $45 million to $6 million, and so far, the city has been awfully quiet on the student travel front.
In the end, I’m left with the same position I’ve held since the beginning. It is unpopular for the MTA to threaten free student transit, and it will create more ill will toward the embattled authority. But the political response to this move from the elected officials in Albany shows that the MTA played the right card. No one has been able to justify foisting the expense of student travel on the transit authority, and politicians are scrambling to find the dollars for it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the state and city come up short, and when they do, the MTA will have to decide who should pay: students through a half-price fair or the rest of us through a series of inconvenient service cuts. I know what I’d choose. Do you?