Home Asides SI Council member highlights the 44-inch problem

SI Council member highlights the 44-inch problem

by Benjamin Kabak

As part of the MTA’s effort at making travel easier for parents with small children, kids 44 inches tall and under may ride the subways and buses for free when accompanied by an adult, but this rule has some strange consequences. The problem, as one Staten Island Council member recently noted, is that height isn’t consistent across ages. As growth charts show, some kids may reach 44 inches at 4 while others may not get there until almost 7 years of age.

Debi Rose wants the MTA to address this problem by moving toward an age-based solution. Based on the 50th percentile on the height charts, children five and under can ride for free. “Due to healthy eating and diet, and the fact that some families are just predisposed towards height — towards tallness — they are being charged the full fare for children who look like they’re older than 5, but in essence are not,” Rose said to the Staten Island Advance.

Of course, age is just as challenging to enforce as a height limit. Kids taller than 44 inches frequently pop under the turnstiles, often at the urging of their parents, and there’s no real way for a bus driver to ascertain a child’s age. Still, for those that embrace the honor system, an age limit seems more reasonable than a height limit, no?

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BBnet3000 May 20, 2013 - 2:22 pm

The way this works in some places iirc is that the parents can get a child-fare card for their kid (with proof of age).

An especially good idea if they ever replace metrocard with permanent RFID-based cards.

Brian R May 20, 2013 - 2:26 pm

It’s hard enforcing age, unless there is proof; height, the driver can glance check and keep it moving.

If it’s that serious of an issue, how hard would it be for the MTA to make a form: Parent brings in their birth certificate, pays $5 a year and the MTA will mail a card with the age on it each birthday. When that child reaches the old enough age, they pay like everyone else.

Every other child old enough to walk on the bus themselves and take a seat pays.

Eric F May 20, 2013 - 2:38 pm

“Parent brings in their birth certificate”

If understand the current political debates, this would be derided as “transit pass suppression”.

Brian R May 20, 2013 - 3:22 pm

Just to clarify, I meant nothing negative, nasty or underhanded by the birth certificate, just a way to prove the child’s age.

SEAN May 20, 2013 - 4:18 pm


Eric F May 20, 2013 - 4:39 pm

When I was a young sprout, I needed to produce my birth certificate in order to be granted NYC working papers to work a part time job. I believe the age cut off was 14 in order to work a few hours per week. I assume that this is now unconstitutional and they just take the kid’s word for it.

Brian R May 20, 2013 - 5:14 pm

Someone visiting, for example, 3 days with their kid(s) from another state, may not have a birth certificate on them, to prove their age for a pass.

This is one of those things the MTA may just have to count AS a loss; or a JJJJ said “allowing kids to ride for free is a way to get paying parents to ride”, so it may all actually be balancing out.

Again, just a thought, nothing nasty or under handed behind it.

Emily May 20, 2013 - 5:32 pm

FYI, students who want working papers(anywhere from age 14 until they turn 18) still need to to bring their birth certificate to their school, along with a doctor’s note stating they are physically well-enough to work, and their social security card.

al May 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm

Kids as young as 11 can work as paper boys before/after school, and on weekends. You don’t see them anymore, but the rule is still on the books.

BenW May 20, 2013 - 5:07 pm

No, it would be “transit rider suppression”, by your analogy, and yes, that is exactly how such a proposal should be viewed. Pointless imposition of extra costs on citizens to ride transit, coupled with pointless imposition of extra costs on the government to enforce the imposition of extra costs on the citizen.

Larry Littlefield May 20, 2013 - 2:35 pm

I though the rule was “young enough to ride for free, young enough to ride on your knee.”

Eric F May 20, 2013 - 2:41 pm

I had no idea this was done by height. They could have one of those “you must be no taller than this” signs like they have on the lines to eme park roller coasters, with a cartoon cut out indicating the maximum height. An age cut off makes much more sense, but it’s probaby deemed easier to police a height requirement, given that asking for I.D. and the like is considered fraught these days.

BoerumHillScott May 20, 2013 - 2:59 pm

I noticed a sign and 44 inch mark put up at the Pacific St entrance of the Atlantic-Barclays station around a month ago.
This is the first time I have seen the policy displayed.

Boris May 20, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Rose makes an assumption that the MTA uses height as a proxy for age – an assumption that is almost certainly incorrect. Then she builds on that assumption to misinform others.

What matters in the constrained space of a transit vehicle is size, not age. If you are small enough to ride in your parent’s lap, then you are *probably* also young enough to ride in your parent’s lap.

Making age matter is discriminatory in that it will force smaller people to pay while larger but younger people can get in for free, therefore (on average) increasing crowding. The current system is better, at least from an operations standpoint.

Eric F May 20, 2013 - 4:37 pm

If you think a 3’6″ kid (assume roughly 40-50 pounds) is sitting on his/her parent’s lap on the bus, you might want to re-examine that assumption.

JJJJ May 20, 2013 - 3:16 pm

Folks need to remember that allowing kids to ride for free is a way to get paying parents to ride.

In a car (or cab), the cost is split. More people = cheaper per person. Because fare is per person, each additional family member makes the trip more expensive, pushing you towards the car.

So basically….kids pay, you get zero fares (family drives). Kids free, you get four fares (2 adults round trip).

I think the MBTA allows free up to age 12. Makes sense. Parents hesitate to let kids younger than 12 ride alone. Sort of like a free ride for someone assisting a blind passenger – a companion fare.

SEAN May 20, 2013 - 4:01 pm

Not only that, WMBTA doesn’t charge a fare to the blind & visually challenged. Metro Dade Transit has something similar, but you need to recertify each year & has some restrictions.

In greater Toronto the visually challenged can receive a special ID that entitles free transit use throughout the entire metro region regardless of mode.

Peter May 20, 2013 - 4:07 pm

True. With three kids, you’re looking at $25 round trip in subway fare. At that point, driving looks very attractive.

SEAN May 20, 2013 - 4:29 pm

Yes, but remember parking fees come into play depending on the destination. Remember free parking distorts the true cost of those spaces wich also distorts the cost of using transit to the same location.

Andrew Smith May 20, 2013 - 3:18 pm

The MTA could argue this was intentionally done as a subsidy to the poor. Height and economic status show strong positive correlation at all ages. Thus, the rich will have to start paying for their 4-year-olds whereas poorer NYers will get an extra three years of free rides.

SEAN May 20, 2013 - 4:16 pm

Are you trying to coralate hight with ecconomic status in the eyes of the MTA? That’s a bit of a stretch.

Eric F May 20, 2013 - 4:42 pm

This isn’t famine era Ireland. There is no section of stunted-growth kids in NYC. Besides, I thought the conspiracy du jour was that the poor were becoming obese because the food companies were giving them highly caloric addictive foods. Keep your conspiracies straight or it’ll start to get too confusing.

Alon Levy May 21, 2013 - 3:06 am

Height and weight aren’t the same thing.

Michael May 20, 2013 - 5:46 pm

make all the trains and busses free for everyone.

SEAN May 20, 2013 - 6:00 pm

SI Council member highlights the 44-inch problem. No wonder Anthany Weiner wants to run for mayor!

Alon Levy May 21, 2013 - 3:06 am

He wishes.

Bolwerk May 20, 2013 - 6:27 pm

Why is everyone here so obsessed with enforcing rules and making complicated systems to check ages?

A simpler, more reasonable way to handle it is to keep the height as it is, but internally enforce the cut-off as obviously pubescent. Actually, that’s probably what they do anyway. Just make it official internal policy.

Jerrold May 20, 2013 - 7:59 pm

Are you sure that a bus driver today would permit, let’s say, a kid who looks about 9 or 10 to be brought aboard without paying?

Bolwerk May 20, 2013 - 8:12 pm

My only evidence that they would is anecdotal, so, no, I’m not sure. Got the impression they didn’t really care though.

Andre L. May 20, 2013 - 6:34 pm

What about just abolishing this provision for free child travel altogether?

There can be solutions like passes for students old enough to ride alone. Or discounted passes for children. In any case, they should have a travel ticket/card/pass as any other passenger.

Kai B May 20, 2013 - 7:34 pm

It’s interesting that if you want to get a senior citizen discount, you need to go through a whole procedure involving paperwork and a notary public.

Jerrold May 20, 2013 - 7:54 pm

I once read this supposedly true story which took place many years ago on a streetcar in a Canadian city:

A woman with a little boy boarded, and put one fare into the box. The driver called her back and said “Ma’am, that child is at least six years old. You’ll have to put in a half-fare for him”.

She answered “How could he be six? I’ve only been married five years”.
The driver said “Lady, I’m taking fares, not confessions”.

Tsuyoshi May 20, 2013 - 8:12 pm

The current policy is fine. An age cutoff is arbitrary, just like a height cutoff is. Height is easy to check, but age is impossible because most children don’t carry any identification.

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