What is at stake in the fight for student MetroCards
Back in March, facing an $800 million budget deficit, the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced a series of severe cuts, among them a proposal to eliminate free MetroCards for students. After the state drastically reduced its mandated contribution to the program, the MTA argued that it was left with few means, and that the termination of the program would help save the agency $214 million. But where exactly does this $214 million figure come from? It appears that the MTA is basing this number off of the revenue that would be created if all students were charged the full fare. While it is clear that the program is not low-cost, it remains that its actual operating expenses remain unknown. As such, the MTA has made it difficult to truly understand the economics of the issue.
Meanwhile, cutting free MetroCards for students threatens the educational options of many children. Public transportation is vital to navigating and living in New York City, and over 400,000 students currently receive free full-fare MetroCards, while over 160,000 receive half-fare MetroCards. If the MTA terminated the program, it could cost families up to $890 to pay for one child’s subway fare for the school year. For some, this may mean withdrawing their children from extracurricular activities and sports, and restricting their access to other neighborhoods in the city. For others, this cost would seriously strain the household budget, and may force families to rethink the schools at which their children are enrolled.
As student outrage has swelled, lawmakers have increasingly voiced their opposition to the proposed cuts, and the agency itself has recently stated that they were “optimistic” that the program could be preserved. Nonetheless, the amount of funds currently allotted to retaining student MetroCards ($65 million in the Senate and $35 million in the Assembly) is not enough, says the Urban Youth Collaborative, a student-run group that organized a demonstration that began today at noon. More than 2,400 students from 23 high schools have been expected to walk out and march to City Hall. While students have reason to be hopeful given the recent supportive comments from officials, they remain aware that the state legislature has yet to deliver the money that is needed to keep it in the budget. The MTA is due to vote on this issue in July, and the Urban Youth Collaborative is marching today to remind them that, like today, the MTA is risking diminished attendance in the coming year should the agency terminate free MetroCards for students.