Home MTA Politics On Student MetroCards, the Assembly Dems fail

On Student MetroCards, the Assembly Dems fail

by Benjamin Kabak

Updated 5:05 p.m.: When it comes to New York State’s legislative bodies, the Assembly generally has a better reputation than the inept Senate. Sheldon Silver has his caucus largely under control, and the Assembly can, with a few major exceptions, pass the legislation it needs to pass. Yet, when individual members of the Assembly start to speak out, boy, does the Assembly start to look bad.

Today’s Stupid MTA Statement of the Day comes to us from Richard Brodsky, Jeffrey Dinowitz and Linda Rosenthal. Brodsky, head of the committee that oversees the state’s public authorities, has sent a letter to the MTA Board criticizing the authority for its “decision to put students and families out as a pawn in the struggle to increase City and State funding.” He continued: “Simply stated, we ask that you immediately withdraw the threat to student fares.”

The Gotham Gazette has seen the letter and provides an excerpt sure to boil your blood:

“While the MTA asserts it needs $214 million in additional state and city aid to preserve the program, the actual cost of free and discounted student fares is close to zero. We reject the MTA’s assertion that the program must be valued at the ostensible lost revenue, and point out that state and city funding for the program actually exceeds the cost of providing the service.”

It is irresponsible economics — and flat-out wrong — for Brodsky to say the cost of free fares is “close to zero.” As I explained when City Comptroller John Liu brought up this same spurious argument, free doesn’t mean no cost. The MTA has to staff more trains and clean up more stations. They have to pay the costs associated with 133.4 million people a year entering the system for free, and that is not something that carries a price tag “close to zero.”

Meanwhile, Dinowitz and Rosenthal leaped into the fray with statements that are simply inexplicable in their absurdity. Dinowitz proclaimed the MetroCard Cuts to be “disgusting and immoral,” and Rosenthal called the move “shameful.” That’s right; members one of the state bodies responsible for approving a budget that striped state funding of student transit have the audacity to slam the MTA for its unwillingness to pay nearly $200 million of money that it doesn’t have for free student travel. When I last I checked, the MTA was a transportation authority and not a school bus provider.

The people who are truly “disgusting and immoral” and also “shameful” are these very same legislatures in Albany who control the purse strings. These are the people who have shot down congestion pricing and East River Bridge tolls, the people who don’t fight for dollars for the MTA and just slam the MTA when its economics go sour. These are the people we vote to represent us and who fail at that task in so many ways.

No politician has yet to explain why the MTA should foot the bill for student transit. The politics of asking a transit agency to cover for the Department of Education, the city and the state do not make sense. As Aaron Donovan, an agency spokesperson said in December, “Nowhere else in the United States is the public transportation system responsible for the costs of transporting students to school. In other municipalities throughout the country the local government will provide that transportation free of charge, and in most cases, provide a fleet of yellow buses.”

Yet when faced with the political and economic reality of student travel, the state Assembly representatives are more than willing to eschew any sense of responsibility toward the city’s students. It’s far easier and politically palatable to scapegoat the MTA than to accept the blame for failed economic and education policy initiatives.

This morning, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio flyered some major subways stops in an effort to convince New Yorkers to call upon Albany to fund student transit. He, at least, has the right idea in mind, but as Brodsky, Dinowitz and Rosenthal have highlighted today, those efforts will come to naught. Albany has simply become a wall standing in the way of New York City’s transit present and future.

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SEAN February 18, 2010 - 4:38 pm

MORONS! I’ll say it again. MORONS!

Christopher February 18, 2010 - 5:44 pm

They aren’t dumb. They say what they think they can get away with. And the 11 o’clock news and the regional tabloids will mostly just parrot whatever they say. The more outrageous and more likely to fit into the established narrative (which they created) that the MTA is bad, bad, bad, the more likely Editors will run with it. They aren’t idiots, but they think we are.

Anon February 18, 2010 - 6:00 pm

LOL. close to zero? Besides vagrants, who do you think does the most damage to the system and the cars?

pete February 18, 2010 - 6:23 pm

If the cost of students is zero, why do I have to pay? I’m filing an civil rights complaint for age discrimination.

John February 18, 2010 - 6:32 pm

The one thing they’re probably right about is that it doesn’t COST the MTA $214 million to transport students to and from school. Problem is, I don’t think the MTA has ever actually said that…

graham February 19, 2010 - 10:24 am

“When I last I checked, the MTA was a transportation authority and not a school bus provider.”

Indeed, the MTA was designed to be a Transit Agency and it’s doing a very bad job at the moment. But it was also built as a firewall to protect elected officials from the nasty task of raising fares and cutting service, a role it’s playing as Oscar-worthily as always.

Mike February 19, 2010 - 10:47 am

Isn’t it obvious that the way cutting student metrocards raises money is that the students themselves then BUY metrocards and SWIPE them?

Even your so-called corrective post misses the point completely here. It’s not about maintenance costs — it’s about fare revenue.

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2010 - 10:58 am

It’s a little more complicated than that, and I’ve looked at this before. The MTA right now is saying that it cost them $214 million to administer the student MetroCard program. That’s probably not true because that would be an absurdly high cost-per-ride.

The $214 million is better conceptualized as the amount of revenue the MTA would capture if students were to pay for their rides. I’d imagine if the state came up with around $100-$150 million for the program, the MTA would be a-OK with that figure, but that’s just a guess.

Scott E February 19, 2010 - 2:19 pm

But if transit’s Farebox Recovery Ratio is between 37 and 40 percent, wouldn’t you think the actual cost would be significantly higher than the per-fare revenue?

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2010 - 3:04 pm

Hmm. You’re right. My math is off. So then I take it back: The $214 million is probably the actual cost of the free rides to the MTA, and Mike’s assumptions are off.

Mike February 19, 2010 - 11:19 pm

There’s a very big difference between marginal cost of extra riders and fully loaded cost of running the service.

motsyotsy February 24, 2010 - 3:47 pm

whatever happened to ‘no child left behind’? the proposed cut is utterly disgusting and depressing to already financially stressed families. the current recession is a burden to all — a tube of toothpaste is almost $7.00! as the breadwinner in a now-single income family,i simply cannot afford to pay for transportation to a public school for my 1 and only child. it’s utterly ridiculous. ALL the schools to which she applied are located in a different borough than the one in which we reside. the only 2 zoned high schools in our horrendously underserved area of the northeast bronx are abysmal and overcrowded — one of them is now slated or closure! this is simply the worst idea ever conceived by new york state. i’m appalled.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2010 - 3:55 pm

Where do you buy your toothpaste? I spent less than $4 on a tube just this week.

David February 25, 2010 - 1:37 pm

Don’t want to lose your student Metro Card? Come out and make your voice heard! The MTA is holding hearings next week in every borough! Click here for the hearings schedule: http://www.mta.info/news/pdf/public_hearing.pdf


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