Home MetroCard The governmental economics of the Student MetroCard

The governmental economics of the Student MetroCard

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the last few months, I’ve repeatedly touched upon issues of cost in relation to the MTA’s decision to cut student MetroCards. As I explained again on Monday, it should cost between $687-$800 a year for one student’s school year travel without the option of free transit.

But what of the costs to the state to fund student travel? Tom Namako of The Post tackled this subject this week, and his findings are both staggering and unsurprising. The state won’t pony up more than $25 million — down for $45 million, up from $6 million — a year for student MetroCards, but it is content to spend over $1 billion busing students to school via the fleet of yellow buses. Namako also notes that the MetroCard program “help[s] move four times as many students at one-fifth of the cost of school buses.”

Namako continues:

The agency said it spends about $214 million to transport 585,000 students for free every year, with the city and state putting in only $45 million and $25 million respectively. Meanwhile, the Education Department’s $1 billion school-bus program moves only about 140,000 students, city statistics show.

That’s $786 million more for 445,000 fewer students. But city officials insist that money can’t be taken from one group and given to the other. “Busing requirements are set by state law. The city does not have the option of using busing money to fund MetroCards,” said one mayoral aide.

The DOE determines who is eligible for both yellow bus and free MTA services.

This is a staggering failure of politics and common sense from the city and state of New York City. Both of the entities responsible for getting students to school have been handed a literal golden transportation ticket, and they are both on the verge of letting the plan lapse. Meanwhile, these governments are content to flush money down the drain via a costly and inefficient yellow school busing system.

The MTA remains the nation’s only transit agency tasked with footing the bill for student transport, and there is simply no justification for it. It’s time for the state and city to swallow their anger and do the right thing. If the students are left stranded, it will be the fault of City Hall and Albany and not the MTA.

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Sara Nordmann March 3, 2010 - 5:49 pm

I am thinking that the school buses are used for disabled students for whom the use of public transit would be a huge burden. (Especially if parents/caretakers had to spend hours each day accompanying a profoundly disabled child on several city buses.) I could be wrong about that, but I’m guessing that’s why the yellow-bus funds can’t be reallocated to MetroCards, regardless of efficiency issues. It would be nice for city officials to clarify that in their quotes to the press.

Sara Nordmann March 3, 2010 - 5:58 pm

I’ve done some further research. It seems that special-ed students are entitled to yellow buses (if judged necessary by their Individual Education Plan):


However, able-bodied students are also eligible for yellow-bus rides if they meet certain distance and age criteria:


Consequently, it seems that some of the money allocated towards yellow buses could (theoretically) be transferred to student MetroCard funding, but there is a certain amount that has to remain for yellow buses to provide transportation for disabled students.

Benjamin Kabak March 3, 2010 - 5:59 pm

That’s a numbers game though. How many disabled students are there and how many buses does the city need to transport those students?

Sara Nordmann March 3, 2010 - 6:51 pm

According to the following webpage, there are 162,269 students “receiving DOE Special Education Services (includes all public, non-public, pre-school & school age)”


That figure is higher than the figure given by the mayoral aide for the total amount of students utilizing yellow-bus services, though. Another part of that page gives a figure closer to 101,000.

I can’t find the data on how many special ed buses there are, but I found that “Every one of the diesel-powered general education buses (2,306 vehicles) under contract to OPT is equipped with emission reduction technology and installation has begun on special education buses.”


Sara Nordmann March 3, 2010 - 6:57 pm

I just called the Office of Pupil Transportation, and they “can’t give out that information” about how many special-ed buses there are. Uh-huh.

Sara Nordmann March 3, 2010 - 7:03 pm

The original NY Post article states:

“There are 2,068 bus routes for 83,706 students, who are picked up at bus stops. There are also 4,658 bus routes for 56,778 special-education students, who are picked up and dropped off at home.”

The article says that there are 140,000 students total riding yellow buses. Looks like less than half of those students are disabled.

Niccolo Machiavelli March 4, 2010 - 1:35 am

I don’t know what is more amazing to me; that the school bus operators managed to charge the city so much while paying their drivers and mechanics so poorly or that you and the post managed to miss the connection to the corrupt history of the union representation for those workers. Its almost like Spike Bernstein is ghost writing for the Post.

Try this on for size http://www.villagevoice.com/20.....and-round/

And, I really hate to cite the Voice on a blog that regularly bothers quoting from the Post but hey, you have the high ground here.

Benjamin Kabak March 4, 2010 - 1:39 am

Your diatribes about the sources and not the content are getting tiring. Don’t like what The Post has to say? Then, why not rebut it? Nothing in Namako’s article was wrong, and it was a point brought up by Streetsblog earlier this week. I linked to that article, and you didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I guess Streetblog is a Niccolo Machiavelli Approved™ source.

Niccolo Machiavelli March 4, 2010 - 5:53 pm

Sorry to bore you Ben, and by your standard that nothing was wrong with Tom’s piece I agree. My beef, as usual is not really with you or the Post but the casual acceptance of what is really half-ass coverage and passing it off as journalism. I only comment here when I think it is worth the bandwidth. Methinks you doth protesteth too much anyway. Maybe you don’t think the mob connection is as relevant as your and Tom’s insights. Sorry to bother you, I’ll try to do less diatribe in the future, or just post somewhere else, or not at all, no loss or win, just a blog. Sorry again man.

Benjamin Kabak March 4, 2010 - 5:56 pm

Niccolo: I don’t mean to be disrespectful. You caught me last night amidst a late-night writing session for school, and it’s been a stressful week. I don’t want to drive you away either because you do bring up some good points quite frequently. All I’m asking is for you to keep the discourse at that level. I don’t understand your critique of The Post’s math (or Streetsblog’s, for that matter, since they brought it up first). Why do you consider it to be “half-ass coverage”? And why should we be concerned with the school bus/mob connections it the state is willing to pay anyway? Shouldn’t that, in fact, strengthen the argument that the state should be more willing to pay the MTA for student transit because while that money is still going to a poorly run organization, at least it’s a governmentally-approved one instead of the mob?

Don’t take my snarky response the wrong way.

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