Once more unto the Student MetroCard breach

By · Published in 2010

The Straphangers Campaign does not think 2010 was a banner year for public transit in New York City. The rider advocacy group released their annual list of Top Tens today, and while they managed to put together a list of the top ten best stories of the year, their top ten worst are more sobering. The list includes fare hikes, service cuts and ever-increasing budget gaps, and it portends rough seas ahead for the MTA.

“There’s no way around it: 2010 was an awful year for subway and bus riders, filled with fare hikes, service cuts and a $900 million MTA deficit,” Gene Russianoff said. “But even in a rotten year, there are some things to celebrate, and, of course, to curse the fates.”

By and large, I don’t disagree with their lists. After all, fare hikes, service cuts and unfunded capital plans are bad news for everyone, and we all appreciate faster bus service, countdown clocks and real-time information available online. But where I think the Straphangers’ list misses the marks is, again, with Student MetroCards. They have proclaimed that saving student MetroCards is the number one best transit story of the year. Says their release:

1. Student MetroCards saved (June 2010). Subways and buses move 550,000 students for free or at half-fare. For months an MTA proposal to end student MetroCards was a serious threat that roiled the public. At one point, a Facebook page set up by two high school students to fight the proposal attracted 102,000 members.

The Straphangers had been influential in pushing to save the Student MetroCard program. They put out faulty math that overestimated the costs of paid transit by $300-$400 a year. They staged rallies. They held protests. They petitioned. But to me — a daily commuter with no children who saw Student MetroCard abuse run rampant in high school — one chart seals the deal:

This chart shows how MTA contributions to student transit have risen over the last 10 years while city contributions have stayed stagnant and state contributions decreased. I have never understood why the MTA should be expected to pay for student transit when the state and city aren’t doing their jobs.

Even when the Student MetroCards were “saved” earlier this year, the solution that emerged from the compromise was not an ideal one. The state simply restored the funding that it cut for 2009. Instead of promising to fund student travel, the state is contributing $45 million, the city is contributing $45 million, and the MTA is on the hook for well over $100 million. At a time when the service cuts package totaled less than what the MTA loses to student travel, I have to wonder why we’re making concessions to what amounts to a failure of government.

When the Student MetroCard program started in 1995, the MTA, city and state were to split the bill evenly with each side contributing $45 million. Unfortunately, the enabling compromise didn’t include adjustments for inflation, increased costs of providing the service or an explosion in the number of eligible. Perhaps, we should return to a scenario where the MTA contributes only $45 million as well, and if that total package of $135 million isn’t enough to provide free travel, then students will have to pay reduced-priced cards. The MTA is a transit agency, not a school bus, and the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay even more so students can ride for free.

12 Responses to “Once more unto the Student MetroCard breach”

  1. Lawrence Velazquez says:

    I don’t understand how anyone with even the smallest bit of common sense can blame the MTA at all for this. Do they really think it’s the job of the transportation authority to pay for kids to go to school? Two seconds of thought shows that the answer is “No.”

  2. Todd says:

    Best. Graph. Ever.

  3. What can I say? I fought the battle over student MetroCards in 1995 and 2010. In 1995, we thought we did o.k., getting the costs split three ways, with the City, State and riders paying $45 million or a third of the costs each.

    Over the years, we have often highlighted that the arrangement was growing more and more inequitable.

    In 2010, the State Legislature was wrong to cut the State’s share from $45 million to $25 million. We said so, as have many other transit advocates.

    That said, it was still very good news for parents and guardians of 550,000 free- and half-fare school students that they wouldn’t be stuck with pay many hundreds of dollars to transport their kids between home and school.

  4. Al D says:

    Here, here. There are so many hidden taxes the state charges, like this 1. I mean, I don’t know about you, but my NYS taxes did not go down, and now the cost of MetroCard is of course going up!

  5. alexjonlin says:

    Youth who have to take transit to get to school absolutely shouldn’t have to pay their own fare. That said, it doesn’t at all seem like the responsibility of the MTA to pay for this. It should be the City and maybe the State. Here in Seattle the school district pays for bus passes for youth but only if they live 2.5 miles or more away from school (although that distance is too far, no one’s going to walk 45 minutes each way to school). I wonder how much it would cost to just supply students living 1.5 miles or more away from school with Metrocards, and offer reduced-price ones to students living within that radius.

    • ajedrez says:

      That rule is in effect already. Students (7-12, as the standards are slightly looser for grades K-2 and 3-6) over 1.5 miles away receive free MetroCards, and students between 1.0 and 1.5 miles receive a MetroCard that allows them to ride buses for 1/2 price.

  6. ajedrez says:

    Students only make up about 7% of all riders, meaning a fare hike of 7-8% would cover the costs of the Student MetroCard program, which isn’t a whole lot. (In other words, cutting Student MetroCards would’ve prevented this last fare hike, but not the service reductions)

  7. Farro says:

    I would probably get a lot of anger for this, but if push comes to shove, I would willingly discontinue senior discount metro cards in favor of student metrocards. The students need them way more…

  8. Justin Samuels says:

    The student metrocard program should continue. What if a parent loses his or a job? Should the kids have their education ended because the parents are going through hard times? Its actually the law saying that kids between 7 and 16 years old must go to school, so if the parents didn’t have money for carfare or weren’t able to drive them to school, then yes, the public transportation authority would still have to issue vouchers for the students who needed them. Its probably simpler for them to allow all students to travel for free, as opposed to determining who really needs them.

    • J B says:

      No one’s saying students should not be able to ride public transit to school for free, but why should it be the MTA that pays? School buses are paid for out of education expenditures, so the same should go for students taking public transit.

  9. Sara Nordmann says:

    You tell ’em, Ben!

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>