By Patricia Adams
New York City students will still be able to get discounted rides to school after a decision last week by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) not to suspend the issue of free student MetroCards.
In an e-mail sent by the MTA on Friday, the authority realized "charging students would have a life-changing impact on the ability of New Yorkers to receive a quality education."
Threats to start charging students half fare began when MTA Chairman Jay Walder announced that unless the city and state contributed more money to the program the agency would have to make up for the lack of funding by charging students. According to the MTA, the student cards cost $214 million per year.
By instituting a charge for students, the authority was depending on about $30 million in student revenue through 2010 and an additional $62 million for the year through 2011.
Now the agency says although the student contributions would have made a “small but important contribution” to closing the $750 million deficit, the consequences would be devastating. "The budget deficit that we are facing will increase," the MTA said in its statement about continuing the free cards, "but the alternative is far worse."
As of 1994, city and state contributions to the program were $45 million each but as of this year, the state had proposed to lower their kick-in to $6 million as a result of the budget crisis. Now the city will continue with its $45 million while the state will be responsible for a $25 million contribution according to a proposal issued by Gov. David Paterson in January.
The heated debate over student fares has played out for the last several months, with politicians and public officials displaying more resistance and hostility over proposed changes for students than the agency’s plans to eliminate bus routes, subway lines and make other service cuts.
Following the announcement by the MTA to continue funding the cards, local elected officials expressed their feelings on the restoration. Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) who vehemently opposed the cuts said, “This represents not only a victory for my constituents, but for families of the more than 500,000 city school children who rely on free MetroCards to get to and from school each day. It was totally inappropriate to use students as pawns in the budget negotiating process, and I am glad to see that the state legislature and MTA have decided
to finally do the right thing.”
State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who earlier this year organized a petition drive in his district to stop the cuts said, “Together we rallied to send a clear message that eliminating student MetroCards that allow students to ride the subway and bus at a substantially reduced cost would be catastrophic for working families.Our message was heard loud and clear.” The MTA says it will set out to address the agency’s budget deficit as early as next month.