As the MTA rushes headlong toward economic Armageddon, free rides have become a major political issue. In the face of a lack of political support, the MTA — rightly so — has refused to fund student transit. While the state has pledged some money and the city is trying to find the funds for the Student MetroCard program, the authority is holding students hostage as collateral for the potential of a political rescue.
Yet, as these machinations go ahead behind the scenes, Mayor Bloomberg has called for an end to all free rides. If New York City students can’t have free rides, said, the Mayor, neither should MTA employees. Pete Donohue and Kate Lucadamo of the Daily News had more:
The mayor called into question the policy of giving retired transit workers free bus and subway rides since free and reduced cards for city students are on the chopping block.
“Does it make any sense to give retirees passes for the rest of their lives and not give our kids passes so they can go to school? No,” Bloomberg said during his weekly radio show. “It’s pretty hard to argue that that is an intelligent policy.”
About 20,000 former retired bus, subway and commuter train workers get travel passes for their twilight years as a retirement benefit. Some 585,000 students also have free or discounted MetroCards – but they could lose them because of the MTA’s budget woes.
Bloomberg here is picking on a benefit that has been in the TWU contract for years, and, as expected, union officials are none too pleased. “After years of fiscal irresponsibility by the state government and the MTA, Mayor Bloomberg wants to hang the current fiscal woes around the necks of the elderly, our retirees, and that’s not right,” current TWU head John Samuelsen said.
Of course, if the world were in two shades, this would be a fight in shades of gray. Bloomberg is right in picking on the MTA’s giveaways for retirees, but Samuelsen has a great point too. The city — and state — simply has not lived up to its funding expectations. Fifteen years ago, the city promised to help fund free student rides, and yet, since 1995, the city hasn’t upped its monetary contributions at all. The $45 million the city paid last year is the same $45 million it paid in the mid 1990s.
So what to do? The workers who toil for decades in harsh conditions deserve some benefits after they retire. Do those benefits include free MetroCards along with health insurance and a solid pension plan? That’s not a bad question to ask, but until the city can find more money for student cards, it’s not one Mayor Bloomberg should be asking.