I have such mixed thoughts about the future of the Student MetroCard program. On the one hand, students in New York City should enjoy free rides to and from their public schools as every other public school student in the country does. On the other hand, the city and state — and decidedly not the MTA — should be picking up the tab for this benefit. On other other, other hand, I have to wonder why Albany can get so up in arms when Student MetroCards are threatened but can’t be bothered to lift a finger when buses and subway routes are eliminated.
Today, the news is guardedly optimistic for the future of the Student MetroCards as politicians and MTA officials believe something will happen to save the free rides for students. Even as New York State prepares to shut down its services because warring factions in Albany can’t come to a budget agreement, legislatures will step in to save student fares. Time, though, is of the essence as the MTA Board plans to vote in less than two weeks on its proposal to eliminate the free rides.
“The sentiment of almost everybody in our conference is that the money has to be put in there,” Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn assembly rep, said to The Wall Street Journal. While other state officials echoed Hikind’s line of thought, no one could say from where the money will flow. In March, Pedro Espada proposed bridge tolls to fund student rides, but that plan hasn’t garnered much attention since then.
Meanwhile, a quote from Richard Brodsky in The Journal struck me as appropriate too. “When the MTA said that the number was $210 million,” he said, “that was clearly not the case. When I announced that they could do this for nothing, that was clearly not the case.” I’m glad to see Brodsky’s admitting that student travel comes at a cost to the MTA, and I’m relieved to see Brodsky’s recognizing that the MTA’s $214 million figure appears to rely on what they would draw in as revenue if they charged students full fare. The actual cost of administering the student travel program and allowing students to ride for free remains to be seen.
At 347 Madison, the MTA, in the words of spokesman Jeremy Soffin, remains “optimistic” that Albany will come through. Yet, I embrace this rescue plan with some hesitation. What about we the fare-paying public? Don’t we deserve a proper funding package as well?
When the MTA implements its service cuts on June 28, over 2 million straphangers and countless more bus riders will find their commutes and travel around the city drastically altered. Trains will be slower in arriving and more crowded. Some trains won’t run at all; others will see new service patterns; and everyone will pay the price. The people suffering are the workers in New York who drive the city’s economy. Just as the city’s students deserve their free rides, so too do the rest of us warrant subway service that meets demands regardless of the price tag.
If Albany is willing to sacrifice something for students — bridge tolls, congestion fees, whatever it might be — it should be willing to up the ante for the rest of us who need the subways to lead productive lives. Our collective trips to work and to play are just as important as a high schooler’s trip to school, if not more so. Where’s our funding package?